By Hollis Thomases
Another Apple device; another bout of hype. Apple’s latest launch, the iPad touch screen tablet computer, began shipping this past weekend, making news everywhere as reviews, expectations, and new announcements continue to stream in. In the most simplistic terms, the iPad is like a larger iPhone…except without the phone. Because it has a larger screen and its own built-in Safari browser, it theoretically presents more and better advertising opportunities. For media planners, however, it also presents multiple hurdles. Here’s why.
Yet Another Platform
Earlier this year, Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff wrote about what he called the “Splinternet,” in which he described how efforts to achieve standardization in the digital industry are disintegrating as new devices (iPhones, Kindles, FiOS TV, etc.) come about, all of which require programming unique to each device. Bernoff believes this splintering will bring an end to 15 years of the Internet‘s “golden age.”
He has a point. Ask any ordinary Web banner designer to build you an ad-supported iPhone application, and she’ll likely defer to a mobile specialist (though this is changing as more demand for these apps drive the need to learn this skill too). The iPad is no different. It will require iPad versions of programmed content. Though Apple has already signed on some marquee publishers for iPad, how many others will follow suit remains to be seen, partially because no one knows how well or how quickly the iPad will catch on. For advertisers seeking a broad reach, this doesn’t make the iPad ideal. Pain No. 1.
Ad Creation and Delivery Challenges
Good media planners try to plan for efficiency – they want to maximize their advertisers’ dollars while helping them best achieve their goals. This often means restraint when it comes to ad placements and creative assets: you want to be able to use the same creative assets in multiple placements across multiple buys. The iPad, however, will be a unique buy unto itself and one that does not enable the use of the most popular creative platforms out there: Flash. If you want to avoid having your ad broken or not served at all, be sure to provide a non-Flash (animated gif or static) ad to traffic as a back-up. These ads, however, with their less rich experiences, don’t appeal as well to the user. Pain No. 2.
Though the rich media mobile ad network Greystripe seems to have a beta-testing workaround it’s developed in conjunction with Adobe, the company behind Flash, that just adds another layer of required adoption in order to deliver Flash-enabled ads. Pain No. 3.
Recognizing the importance of advertising, of course, Apple has developed its own ad platform (are you ready for this?) – iAd, which it will launch tomorrow according to news reports. No one has been able to really say what the iAd platform will do or allow. But most speculation centers on the functionality and targeting capabilities of mobile ad provider, Quattro Wireless, which Apple acquired several months ago. Media planners will probably rejoice if iAd enables location-based ad targeting, but not knowing much of anything about iAd at this point forces everyone into a wait-and-see holding pattern. Pain No. 4.
The Matter of Adoption
As with any new technology in advertising, media planners must focus on critical mass: does this solution bring our advertiser enough eyeballs or the right kind of eyeballs? No doubt, the first batch of iPads will be purchased by Apple devotees. But how well will it sell beyond that and at what pace to make it worth considering? Recent media buyer focus group research conducted by consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates revealed concerns about the degree of iPad market penetration, use and adoption, ad tracking (will traditional tracking pixels work?), and measurement standards. Pain Nos. 5 through 8.
Magid did find that media buyers felt positively about iPad’s “always on” connectivity, the opportunities for localized targeting and more interactivity thanks to a larger screen, quality video and mobile TV, Apple’s brand impact, early adopter ad reach, and the truly mobile retail potential. Magid’s research also found the potential for the iPad to eventually cross the full spectrum of user demographics equally: from millennials to boomers.
Lastly, there’s the question of where dollars for iPad advertising will come from. If budgets are broken down between mobile and Web, which budget will suffer; or, do you need to find discretionary “testing” dollars altogether?
Ugh, yet another pain.